The history of the Tower of London stretches back almost 1,000 years – it is perhaps one of the most interesting of the Royal Residences. So, in honour of this fascinating Royal Residence, we have composed a fact file of 25 facts about the Tower of London.
1. The Tower of London is not the Tower’s official name. The full name of the Tower is actually: Her Majesty’s Royal Palace And Fortress, The Tower of London.
2. It was never supposed to be a prison. Originally the Tower was a Royal Palace and defensive fortress, built by William The Conqueror. It was only once it was discovered the Tower was just as good at keeping people in as it was at keeping people out that the Tower was used as a Prison.
3. The Tower is still officially a royal residence of Her Majesty The Queen. She has a house onsite called ‘The Queen’s House’ (The King’s House when the Monarch’s male), which she could still inhabit if she wished.
4. During WW2, the Tower was used as a Prisoner Of War camp. Rudolf Hess, Deputy Chancellor of Nazi Germany, was imprisoned in the Tower after he attempted to parachute into Scotland. He was found by a Farmer and his mother, where he was looked after before capture. He was placed in what was the King’s House but is now the Queen’s House. He was free to roam the Tower grounds.
5. There are two sentry posts at the Tower of London. One is at the Jewel House, where the Queen’s Guard looks after the Crown Jewels and the other at The Queen’s House. The post at The Queen’s house is a silent post, where the guard doesn’t stamp and make loud noises so as to not disturb the occupants in The Queen’s House. Even when the officer comes out for the inspection, the sentry whispers the reply ‘All’s Well’!
6. The Tower houses the crown jewels and has done for many centuries now. The estimated value of the crown jewels is said to be in excess of £20 billion ($32 billion) with the Star Of Africa alone estimated at £250 million ($400 million) – this is an estimate based on the jewel’s worth as jewels and including their relation to the Monarchy. Their actual value is priceless.
7. Ravens have always been kept at the Tower of London. When Charles II (a very superstitious Monarch) asked for the Ravens to be removed, he was advised that if the Ravens were removed, The Tower would crumble and a great harm would befall the nation. Ever since, ravens (at least 6) have been kept at the Tower.
8. Every evening, at precisely 9:53pm, a ceremony takes place to lock the Tower of London – the ceremony of the keys. An armed escort of the Queen’s Guards set off with the Chief Yeoman Warder to lock all the gates. At one point, one sentry at a post issues a challenge to the escort by saying, “HALT!, Who comes there?” to which the Chief Warder replies, “The Keys”, the sentry then says “whose keys?” – the escort then responds “Queen Elizabeth’s Keys”, the sentry then allows the escort to pass by saying “Pass Queen Elizabeth’s Keys, and all is well” – this has happened every day for hundreds of years without fail. It is the oldest military ceremony in the world!
9. The keys were recently stolen from the Tower of London on 6th November 2012 after a lapse in security. Fortunately, the keys weren’t for any of the high-risk buildings or entrances like the Jewel Tower, however the locks were promptly changed and security, increased.
10. The Tower used to house the Royal Mint where the coins of the realm were created.
11. Yeoman Warders at the tower are selected for their meritorious service in the Armed Forces. To qualify they must have completed 22 years service in the Forces, the Warders live on site at the Tower.
12. The uniforms of the Yeoman Warder (the full state dress uniform) is estimated to cost over £7,000 each, as each uniform includes gold thread.
13. Henry VIII was said to have held a jousting match at the Tower during his reign outside the Waterloo Barracks.
Only 22 executions have ever taken place inside the Tower of London. Most happened on the nearby Tower Hill. The last man to be beheaded there was the Jacobite octogenarian Lord Lovat on April 9 1747.
14. The last execution in the Tower of London took place on August 14 1941, when Josef Jakobs, a German spy, was shot by a firing squad.
15. The Tower also housed what was known as the ‘Royal Menagorie’, the royal collection of exotic animals. The first animals to arrive were lions, an elephant and a polar bear which would hunt for fish in the Thames on a lead. Later came tigers, kangaroos and ostriches.
16. The menagerie was closed by the Duke of Wellington in 1835 and the animals became the basis for London Zoo in Regent’s Park.
17. The White Tower is 27 meters above ground and is made of Caen stone imported from France.
18. Edward V and Richard, Duke Of York were imprisoned in the Tower by their devious uncle, who became Richard III. Legend dictates that he had the two boy princes killed so he could succeed to the throne. The story became known as the story of the ‘Princes in the Tower’. In recent centuries more evidence has come to light about the princes including the discovery of the bones of two young boys found in a chest in the Tower which have all but been confirmed to have belonged to the boy princes.
19. The Tower of London has been a tourist attraction since Elizabethan times and the Crown Jewels have been on display since the late 17th century.
20. Several ghosts are said to haunt the Tower, including those of Anne Boleyn, Henry VI, Lady Jane Grey, Margaret Pole, the Princes in the Tower – and a grizzly bear!
21. From the early 14th century until the reign of Charles II, a procession would be led from the Tower to Westminster Abbey on the coronation of a monarch.
22. The constable of the tower of London is in charge of the Tower when the Monarch is not present. They are responsible for the smooth running of the Tower’s affairs.
23. The constable’s dues is one of the historical ceremonies and the last perk of the job for the constable at the Tower. Any passing ships carrying cargo were traditionally required to pay the constable’s dues by providing him with a small token from their cargo, now it is a barrel of rum.
24. Although only one bomb fell on the Tower of London in the First World War (it landed harmlessly in the moat), the Second World War left a greater mark. On 23 September 1940, during the Blitz, high-explosive bombs damaged the castle, destroying several buildings and narrowly missing the White Tower. After the war, the damage was repaired and the Tower of London was reopened to the public.